Yesterday was one of the worst days at work I’ve had in a long time. We have a location in Bogota, Colombia and any time we have to deal with them it is problematic. It’s not just the fact that there are large distances involved, or that there is a language difference. I think the main issue originates with some pretty significant cultural differences. These are people for whom legal issues are little more than an impediment to what they want.

No, I’m not saying that they are a bunch of criminals or thugs, but there seems to be no compunction against skirting the law to accomplish what they see as the “more important” goal. I have been dealing with the manager and his admin for this location for about ten years now – ever since my predecessor ended up screaming at one of them on the phone in order to get him to listen to what he was being told. Our boss at that time called my coworker into his office, listened to his version of what was going on, then reprimanded him and told him that he was to have no further dealings with anyone from that location.

Lucky laid-back me 😦 – I inherited all future dealings with them.

The biggest issue I have had with them is their willingness to ignore import/export laws in order to get the equipment they want into their hands. It has been a constant battle with them. Up until about three or four years ago, if one of them had a laptop that was giving them trouble, they convinced a manager to requisition a new one and have it hand delivered down there when the next person traveled to visit their location. The end result of course, is that there are now computers at their location that are supposed to be in the US.

Now they have two of them that have gone belly up, and the warranties are for systems here in the States. Now, over the last few years we have gotten a presence in the legal department who specializes in import/export compliance issues and she has gotten everyone trained in what has to be done to get equipment shipped across international boundries. We have all been through this training, including the manager in question. And still he tries to get people to skirt the law.

So, one of his field tech’s computer is dead. He wants us to fix it . . . from here in the US . . . remotely . . . when the computer won’t even turn on. ❓

ME: Sorry, can’t do it.  You’re going to have to ship it to us. Additionally, you must go through customs.

HIM: That takes too long and costs too much. Find another way.

ME: Sorry, there is no other way to do this quickly. Here are the forms, here are the ECCN numbers that will likely apply to your shipment, please contact your freight forwarding company and arrange a door to door temporary export to us so we can repair the system and ship it back to you asap.

I don’t hear back until his office admin contacts me wanting to know how much to insure the laptop for so she can stick it in a FedEx box & ship it directly to us! So I again have to get written confirmation from Legal that this is not an acceptable way to ship a computer across international boundaries. He spends the next several days trying to contact my boss to get her to tell me to ship a new laptop to him (he knows we are currently under a spending freeze until the 2011 budget is approved and implemented – only new hires are an exception to this). Luckily, my boss is out of town, so he then contacts someone in Procurement to get them to have me send them a new laptop. I explain the situation to him, politely telling him that I can’t do what he’s asking without violating both the law and company policy.

Understand that all this is taking place over the course of two weeks. Two weeks, and the guy still hasn’t even started filling out the forms to ship the laptop to us!

So he sends the issue further up the food chain, complaining about how slow we are to take care of his issues, conveniently neglecting to mention that Legal has already told us all what needs to be done, and that we are waiting on him to fill out the forms. Next thing I know, my boss’s boss sends me an email telling me he wants to discuss the matter with me.

Crap.

Luckily, after having dealt with this guy for several years, I have a separate file folder for all correspondences from him or his admin. I have to spend the next two hours pulling email chains, voice mail recordings, and constructing a timeline of events so I can give the entire story of what actually happened. Two hours proving that I and my team did our jobs correctly.

If I never have to deal with our Colombia office again, it will be much too soon!

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